Government should get out of the flood insurance business

As Hurricane Dorian churns through the Bahamas and starts chewing on the Florida coast, a vast number of people are greatly relieved that they are insured through the National Flood Insurance Program.  But even Politico has noticed that this is actually another way that the rich can stick it to the poor.

The vast majority of NFIP policy-holders are located on the Texas and Florida coastlines, where hurricanes are a well known hazard.  Owning property near the beach is a pipe dream for mere mortals, with prices in the stratosphere.  A quick glance at Zillow shows an Atlantic Beach, Florida home slightly larger than mine selling for multiples of the value of mine, simply because it's on the beach.  I live fifty miles from the beach on high ground that has never had a recorded flood.

Because this home is in a flood area, it has NFIP-subsidized insurance.  For the rest of us plebeians, that means that some of our tax money will ultimately go to help repair a $2.4-million home that should not be built on the barrier island.

For those in middle America, let me explain.  Most of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. are protected by sand bars.  Storms deposit large amounts of sand that are remodeled by other weather and streams.  Over time, plants grow on them, and their roots stabilize the dunes.  They become "islands" when this happens, but their fundamental character is not changed.

In 1921, a hurricane hit the Fort Myers area of Florida, cutting Captiva Island in half.  In 2004, Hurricane Charlie cut North Captiva Island in half.  In 2012, Hurricane Sandy cut three barrier islands off the south shore of Long Island in half.  These are not the exceptions.  Barrier islands are constantly being remodeled by storms, sometimes completely disappearing.  They are resilient sand bars, but still sand bars.

It is well known that barrier islands act to protect the coast line.  Much of this involves protecting large wetlands that are essential to the food chain.  Storms are natural "refreshers" of these coastal marshes, keeping them healthy.  But building on the barrier islands disrupts the natural movement of the sand with storms.  Millions are spent restoring beaches that have been eroded in a storm.  Man works hard to protect the status quo, not admitting that change is the only healthy constant.

Of course, when that beach erosion washes out a multi-million dollar beach house, Uncle Sugar helps to pay for the repair, even though it is a completely predictable event. Further the building and the infrastructure that support it are harmful to the natural dynamics of the dunes. So not only are taxpayers footing the bill for rich folks, they are damaging the environment.

Even though the coastline has our attention for the moment, there's another area where flood insurance is harmful: the Mississippi River basin.

When pioneers pushed westward, they sought out "river bottom land."  This was the most fertile land for growing crops.  It was fertile because the river periodically flooded.  Because of those floods, farmers didn't build their homes close to the water.  They might build docks for river traffic but very little else, since anything on the river was at risk in a flood.

As population grew, towns grew up around the river, since it was the superhighway for commerce.  And towns didn't want to flood.  So levees were built to control floods.  Over time, the area covered by levees grew, and so did the severity of the floods.  What had been smaller overflows that made soil richer became commercially devastating.  The cry went up for more levees for protection.  Ultimately, man's desire to control the river led to floods that overtopped and cut levees, leading to destruction on an unimaginable scale.

The floods we see today are a direct result of the Army Corps of Engineers doing their assigned task of building levees.  We've been demonstrating insanity by doing this over and over again, expecting a different result.  Levees channel the small floods into big ones.  And, by the way, we expect the people who built in the flood plain to be made whole by the NFIP.  At taxpayer expense.

We spend tax money to build levees that make the floods worse.  Then we spend tax money to pay for the damage those floods do.  And then we do it all over again.  But the people who got flooded out understandably cry out for help, and politicians are happy to give it — with my money.

Perhaps the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and other environmental organizations could be persuaded to take this up as an environmental issue.  Barrier islands and riverbanks are both being destroyed by wrong-headed subsidies.  The Law of Subsidy is clear.  When you subsidize something, you get more of it, and it gets more expensive.  NFIP is just one of many examples.

Yes, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  He who robs from Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul.  But if we can get enough push from the right corners, we may just be able to start saving our environment while saving some money by cutting out the NFIP.  That's a Green New Deal we should all be in favor of.

As Hurricane Dorian churns through the Bahamas and starts chewing on the Florida coast, a vast number of people are greatly relieved that they are insured through the National Flood Insurance Program.  But even Politico has noticed that this is actually another way that the rich can stick it to the poor.

The vast majority of NFIP policy-holders are located on the Texas and Florida coastlines, where hurricanes are a well known hazard.  Owning property near the beach is a pipe dream for mere mortals, with prices in the stratosphere.  A quick glance at Zillow shows an Atlantic Beach, Florida home slightly larger than mine selling for multiples of the value of mine, simply because it's on the beach.  I live fifty miles from the beach on high ground that has never had a recorded flood.

Because this home is in a flood area, it has NFIP-subsidized insurance.  For the rest of us plebeians, that means that some of our tax money will ultimately go to help repair a $2.4-million home that should not be built on the barrier island.

For those in middle America, let me explain.  Most of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. are protected by sand bars.  Storms deposit large amounts of sand that are remodeled by other weather and streams.  Over time, plants grow on them, and their roots stabilize the dunes.  They become "islands" when this happens, but their fundamental character is not changed.

In 1921, a hurricane hit the Fort Myers area of Florida, cutting Captiva Island in half.  In 2004, Hurricane Charlie cut North Captiva Island in half.  In 2012, Hurricane Sandy cut three barrier islands off the south shore of Long Island in half.  These are not the exceptions.  Barrier islands are constantly being remodeled by storms, sometimes completely disappearing.  They are resilient sand bars, but still sand bars.

It is well known that barrier islands act to protect the coast line.  Much of this involves protecting large wetlands that are essential to the food chain.  Storms are natural "refreshers" of these coastal marshes, keeping them healthy.  But building on the barrier islands disrupts the natural movement of the sand with storms.  Millions are spent restoring beaches that have been eroded in a storm.  Man works hard to protect the status quo, not admitting that change is the only healthy constant.

Of course, when that beach erosion washes out a multi-million dollar beach house, Uncle Sugar helps to pay for the repair, even though it is a completely predictable event. Further the building and the infrastructure that support it are harmful to the natural dynamics of the dunes. So not only are taxpayers footing the bill for rich folks, they are damaging the environment.

Even though the coastline has our attention for the moment, there's another area where flood insurance is harmful: the Mississippi River basin.

When pioneers pushed westward, they sought out "river bottom land."  This was the most fertile land for growing crops.  It was fertile because the river periodically flooded.  Because of those floods, farmers didn't build their homes close to the water.  They might build docks for river traffic but very little else, since anything on the river was at risk in a flood.

As population grew, towns grew up around the river, since it was the superhighway for commerce.  And towns didn't want to flood.  So levees were built to control floods.  Over time, the area covered by levees grew, and so did the severity of the floods.  What had been smaller overflows that made soil richer became commercially devastating.  The cry went up for more levees for protection.  Ultimately, man's desire to control the river led to floods that overtopped and cut levees, leading to destruction on an unimaginable scale.

The floods we see today are a direct result of the Army Corps of Engineers doing their assigned task of building levees.  We've been demonstrating insanity by doing this over and over again, expecting a different result.  Levees channel the small floods into big ones.  And, by the way, we expect the people who built in the flood plain to be made whole by the NFIP.  At taxpayer expense.

We spend tax money to build levees that make the floods worse.  Then we spend tax money to pay for the damage those floods do.  And then we do it all over again.  But the people who got flooded out understandably cry out for help, and politicians are happy to give it — with my money.

Perhaps the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and other environmental organizations could be persuaded to take this up as an environmental issue.  Barrier islands and riverbanks are both being destroyed by wrong-headed subsidies.  The Law of Subsidy is clear.  When you subsidize something, you get more of it, and it gets more expensive.  NFIP is just one of many examples.

Yes, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  He who robs from Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul.  But if we can get enough push from the right corners, we may just be able to start saving our environment while saving some money by cutting out the NFIP.  That's a Green New Deal we should all be in favor of.